Supermarket Tricks of the Trade

Supermarket Tricks of the Trade

So you’re going shopping.  You’ve worked out a food budget, made a meal plan and wrote up a shopping list.  You confidently go through the store, pick out the items you need and proceed to the checkout.

As the cashier rings up your order, you become increasingly horrified as you watch the total go up and up…and up.  Sure, you picked up an extra thing or two.  Those cookies were on sale (a bargain, really).  The canned anchovies were a threefer…so you got 3.  Ok, six.  Because you’re sure you can come up with a great way to use them.  They don’t go bad, right?  And that cake on the clearance rack was too good of a deal to pass up.  Someone will eat it.

You leave the store wondering what went wrong.  Where did you lose control?  How could this possibly have happened?

Don’t beat yourself up.  It’s not your fault.  You’ve just been marketeered. 

Supermarket Tricks of the Trade

Supermarket Tricks of the Trade

It’s a fact.  Supermarkets literally pay people to figure out how to get you to buy things you don’t need and never intended to purchase using money that should have gone towards the light bill.  Just like any other business, they are out to make as much profit as they possibly can.

Sound devious?  Sure, but here’s the problem.  You still have to shop there.  You’re gonna need to eat. The only way to avoid the pitfalls is to learn how to spot these supermarket tricks of the trade so you can steer clear.

The More You Know

The More You Know

Celebrity endorsements. Food manufacturers will often court celebrities to endorse a certain product with the hope that, if you like that person, you’ll buy the product  Sometimes the celebrity simply endorses it, or sometimes it’s a line of products with their name on it  The one thing you need to remember is this:  Most endorsements are simply a way for celebrities to make a quick buck.  It doesn’t mean that they use those products and it’s more likely that they don’t.

Background music.  Music affects what or how much consumers buy.  Slower and nostalgic music is relaxing and tends to make people linger longer in the grocery store.  And the longer you linger, the more you buy.

Clearance Tags. The definition of clearance sale is, “A sale of goods at reduced prices to get rid of superfluous stock or because the shop is closing down” so check the actual discount before you fill up your basket.  You may be surprised to find the “clearance price” is often a very small percentage off the regular price.

10 for $10.  As luck would have it, these are usually shelf-stable products with a long life like canned tomatoes or tuna so why not save some $$$ and get 10, right?  But how much are you really saving? Often not much.  Sometimes nothing at all.  Take a minute and see how much they cost at full price.

Samples.  That tiny sample is not going to fill you up…instead, it’s going to trigger your hunger response and actually make you buy more.  It’s the store’s way of making sure you go shopping while you’re hungry.

The Smell of Bread Baking.  For the same reasons as above.

All Staples to the Back, Please.  Notice that the last time you dashed into the store for a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk, you felt like you’d run a marathon by the time you got to the register?  Staples are routinely scattered about in the far corners of your favorite market.  That’s so you can walk by and be tempted by all those things you don’t need to get to the few things you do.

And those lines!! When was the last time you left a store because the line was too long?  Probably never.  Stores walk a fine line between losing a customer and having you wait long enough to be tempted by all the impulse items they have laid out for you.  Magazines, gum, candy bars, tables full of cookies and cakes.  The longer you have to look at it, the more likely you are to buy it.

Limit 3 Per Customer.  This has taken on more meaning during the Pandemic but it’s a tool that’s been used for a long time.  When you’re limited, it automatically makes you want more.  And if it does sell out?  You’re more likely to come back later to get the item you missed.  Oh, and you’re also likely to buy more groceries on that trip too.

BOGO.  If this was on your list, by all means, take advantage.  But “Buy One, Get One” is intended to be a hook to get you to purchase something you hadn’t intended to buy and probably don’t need.

Buy One, Get One Half Off.  BOGOs less popular cousin is still a downfall for many.  Again, if you were going to buy two anyway, go for it but if not, steer clear.  Keep in mind that it’s only a 25% discount.  If that item was $4 then the second is $2, which means that you only saved $2.  This also means you just spent $2 (or $6) more than you intended to.

Shopping carts at the Entrance.  And those carts get larger all the time so it‘s easy to throw that extra thing in.  And then another.  Before you know it you have to leave because you can’t fit anything else in there without crushing your eggs.  Next time you only need a thing or two, just grab a basket.  Better yet, leave the basket and then you’ll be limited by how much you can carry in your hands.

There’s a Reason That Stores Keep Getting Bigger.  Yes, they can carry more items but it’s also because people don’t like to be crowded.  It makes us uncomfortable.  We’re more relaxed and will stay longer if we feel that we are being given enough personal space.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!  Whatever time of year that is for you, it’s a period when people are in a good mood, often have time off and are looking forward to spending time with family and friends. Your favorite supermarket is here to help you celebrate with seasonally themed foods, decorations and music in an effort to encourage you to overspend.

Eat Well and Spend Less

Eat Well and Spend Less

These are just a few of the supermarket tricks of the trade that entice you to spend more than you wanted to.  I hope it helps the next time you have to shop. Remember,  the more you know, the easier it is to eat well and spend less.  And if you do have buyer regret once you get home?  Just return the items for a credit or refund.   After all, the store is the one who fooled you into buying it in the first place.

What about you?  Has this opened your eyes to any strategies that have caused you to buy something you hadn’t intended to buy?  Let me know in the comments below!

All my best,

Cynthia
cynthia@cynthiaeats.com

Saving Money On Food – 13 Ways To Slash Your Grocery Bill

Do you find yourself spending more than you wanted to on groceries? Here are a few tips for saving money on food – 13 ways to slash your grocery bill!

Saving Money On Food
Saving Money On Food

Here you are in the checkout line of your local grocery store. Do you watch in horror as the numbers on the display register go up and up…and up? How many times have you cringed when the cashier announced your total? Yup. Me, too.

How did this happen? You just went in for a couple of items and now you’re wondering how to adjust your monthly budget to account for this comestible catastrophe. Well, this episode may be water under the bridge but let’s look ahead and talk about saving money on food the next time you go shopping.

With some planning and critical thinking, there are ways to slash your grocery bill!

Have A Game Plan

Have a Game Plan
Have a Game Plan

First, I’ll say this: All that money you just (over)spent? Not entirely your fault. Grocery stores pay people to come up with ways to entice you to spend as much as they can entice you to spend. The store set-up, end cap displays, lighting, colors, shopping carts, the yummy smells? All part of their diabolical plan to make you spend more. There are 2 important things you can do to overcome this psychological warfare before you even leave your house!

Make a meal plan: This isn’t as hard as it seems. What are you having for dinner tonight? Why not double it and have the rest for lunch tomorrow? Two meals down. Maybe grab some oatmeal, raisins and yogurt for overnight oats or granola parfaits to take to work for breakfast this week? Now you’re down 7 meals. That’s ⅓ of your entire meal plan and it just took a minute. See how easy that was?

Make a shopping list: Now, use that meal plan to make your shopping list. I’m going to assume you’ll be shopping in the same store that you always do, so, with that in mind, set up your shopping list in the order that you’ll be walking the store. Does the entrance lead you to the produce section first? List all your produce items first, then (for example) all your meat items followed by the dairy items.

Once you hit the aisles of the store, group items together that will probably be in the same section (all the spices together, all the baking items together, etc.) This will prevent you from backtracking and being further tempted by all those sneaky displays!

Into The Fray

Into The Fray
Into The Fray

Stick to your list: Do it like it’s your job. No unauthorized purchases, no maybe-I-can-use-its, no gosh-that-looks-goods. Keep your eyes forward and only stop for the things on your list.

… Unless you don’t stick to your list: OK, so there’s that Manager’s Special on chicken. That really good special. Riddle me this: Do you eat chicken? A lot? Can you break that package down into smaller portions for storage? Do you have room in your freezer? Can afford to spend the extra money this week? If you can answer “yes” to every single question, then go ahead and pick up a package.

Stay In Your Own Lane: No unplanned off-ramps. No side trips down aisles “just to check it out”. Stick to the store perimeter and only enter the aisles that have items you planned to buy.

Stick To The Basics

Stick To The Basics
Stick To The Basics

Learn to read the shelf tags: These tags help you to discern the true value of an item compared to another by breaking down the cost per unit (such as ounce, pound or individual item). Once you know how to do this, the following advice is easy to check out.

Do your own prep work: Food in its most unprocessed form is always less expensive than pre-cut or prepared items. A few examples of this are:

  • Whole carrots compared to baby carrots or matchstick
  • The whole roast compared to steaks or stew meat*
  • A block of cheese compared to pre-sliced or shredded cheese

Doing your own prep work does take more time, but I find that it’s easier to just do it all when I get home from the store. Some like to set aside some time on their day off to all the prep work for the week while others prefer to just prep for the meal that they’re cooking. You can play around with different methods until you find one that works for you!

*I’m not going to discuss edible yield in regard to meats here as I find the bone-in/boneless argument is usually more of a personal choice than a cost point.

Size doesn’t matter: Bigger is not always less expensive. Use the shelf tag to determine which size is truly the best value.

Buy generic: Many lesser-known brands are a better value than the Big Guys. Make sure to read the ingredient and nutrition labels to make sure it’s as high quality as the name brand.

Put down the frozen french fries: For real. Just do it. Put back those individual packets of flavored oatmeal while you’re at it. These two items, on average, cost twice as much per unit as their unprocessed counterparts (fresh potatoes and old-fashioned rolled oats). That’s true of most convenience foods. The truth is that it doesn’t take much more time to make these items fresh.

Ban Junk Food

Ban Junk Food
Ban Junk Food

The average American spends almost 25% of their grocery budget on processed, convenience, pre-made and snack foods. Don’t believe me? Dig out your last grocery receipt and add it up. I’m positive it’s more than you think it is.

Ask yourself how much of that food was eaten mindlessly? It’s easy to prepare (if it needs any preparation at all) so it’s easy to just grab some to chow down while you’re watching TV or working on your computer. Seriously, when was the last time you wondered why there were only crumbs in the bottom of the chip bag? And did you really eat all the microwavable pizza nuggets?

Now ask yourself if you’re really going to spend that much money on things you didn’t even enjoy eating. Surely if you had enjoyed them, you would have remembered actually eating them. Think of how much you’re going to enjoy keeping all that money right in your bank account from now on!

OK, yes, you’re gonna want cookies. These no-bake cookies come together in less than 15 minutes for about $3.50, which is less than ½ the price of buying the same amount of the same cookies pre-made.

I found some other great ideas in this post from honestfoods.com.

Go Forth And Conquer

Go Forth And Conquer
Go Forth And Conquer

Be bold. Be unafraid. Get out there and go shopping. You’ve got this.

 

All my best,

Cynthia
cynthia@cynthiaeats.com

 

 

Shopping for one person – 12 of Your Questions Answered

Shopping for one person. It should be easy, right? Then why is it so hard? Let’s get to the bottom of it with answers to 12 grocery shopping questions!

Shopping for one person
Shopping for one person

Shopping for one person may seem easy in theory. After all, it’s just you, right? And you know what you like, right? Right?

Then why does it seem so hard once you get behind the wheel of that shopping cart?

You know like chicken but the choices seem overwhelming. Whole chicken? Half? Wing, thigh, breast, ground, bone in, bone out? With rice or potatoes, stuffed, in a salad, on a sandwich? Hot? Cold? Gravy? No? Do you even have the stuff at home to make any of these dishes?

Relax for a few minutes while I do my best to get 12 most common of
your questions answered.

How Do I Buy Groceries For One Person?

How Do I Buy Groceries For One Person?
How Do I Buy Groceries For One Person?

What is a basic grocery list?

This is what I would consider to be a basic list of thing you will want in your kitchen:

  • Meat, poultry, seafood and tofu
  • Grains such as pasta, oatmeal, flour
  • Cooking oils and butter
  • Dairy such as milk, yogurt and cheese or nut based alternatives
  • Garlic
  • Fresh and/or frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Canned tomatoes and/or sauce (no preservatives added)
  • Dried fruits such as raisins and cranberries
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Peanut butter
  • Eggs
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chicken or vegetable stock/cubes (no preservatives added)
  • Honey
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Sugar

Exactly what you decide to get is up to you but use this as a general guideline. Buy only those things you like to eat and know how to use/prepare (unless you’re trying a new recipe, which I encourage wholeheartedly).

Condiments and spices can be expensive to buy all at once so I suggest that you buy them as you go along. In other words, only buy the condiments and spices you will need for this weeks (or months) meal plan. Eventually, you will find that you have a supply of everything you need!

How Can I Simplify Grocery Shopping?

How Can I Simplify Grocery Shopping?
How Can I Simplify Grocery Shopping?

How Will I Know What To Buy?

Make a list. The easiest way to make sure you have a complete list when you hit the market is to make a meal plan for the period for which you’re shopping and list everything you’ll need for that plan (that you don’t already have).

Keep it running. Keep the list on your fridge (or your phone) and immediately add to it when you notice you’re low on something.

Check your budget. If it looks like you’re shopping is going to cost more than you had allotted, go back through your list to decide what you can put off until the next trip.

Organize your shopping list. Set up your list in the order you’ll be walking the store. Clump all your produce together, for example, and your meats. When you get to the aisle section of the store, try to group things together that would be in the same section such as condiments, spices, baking supplies, etc.

For more information on this subject, check out my article, “Shopping For One Person”.

How Often Should I Grocery Shop?

This is a completely personal choice and varies wildly. Much of it depends on a person’s access to a grocery store and how much he/she enjoys or can afford to shop. I have a friend who shops for her food daily (“How would I know what I want to eat tomorrow?”), while another views her bi-weekly curbside pickup as a blessing (because she never has to step foot in a grocery store ever again). Some will shop monthly due to fixed income schedules. The average person goes to the grocery store 1-2 times per week, which is how my schedule looks, but this decision is totally up to you.

When Is The Best Time To Go Food Shopping?

Early mornings before 9:00 am or evenings after 7:00 pm are typically the times that stores are the least crowded. The busiest time of day 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm due to school release and people getting out of work

How do I grocery shop on a budget?

How Do I Grocery Shop On A Budget?
How Do I Grocery Shop On A Budget?

 How much does food cost per month for one person?

The USDA publishes a monthly food plan which indicates that it costs between $165 and $345 a month to purchase a healthy variety of food for one person.

How much does the average person spend on groceries?

The amount varies wildly depending on gender, income, expenses, household size and the ratio of home cooking to pre-made, take out and restaurant dining. It’s important to have a food budget that coincides with your income and expenses.

How Do I Budget For Groceries?

In general, most people spend an average of 6% of their income on groceries and another 5% on pre-made, takeout or dining out. You can use this as a general guideline to see where you stack up against “the norm” but the amount you budget should reflect your eating habits as well as your ability to cover your other expenses.

If you’re concerned that you spend too much on groceries, try keeping your receipts for a month or two to track what you purchase, where and when. Are you spending too much money on items that could be scaled back? Are you making poor choices on certain days or times (for example after a long day at work?) Are you paying extra by buying single items at the convenience store each morning when those might be less expensive if bought ahead at the supermarket in larger packages?

What Can I Do If I Have No Money For Food?

What Can I Do If I Have No Money For Food?
What Can I Do If I Have No Money For Food?

Food pantries are a fabulous resource, whether you use them on a regular basis or just for those “lean times” caused by things like unexpected car repairs or reduced work hours. In many instances, it’s not necessary to prove income or need. Click here to find a list of food pantries in your area.

How Do I Eat Healthy On A Tight Budget?

Please read my article “How To Eat Well On A Budget” for some thoughts on how to get by when times are tough!

What are the cheapest meals to make at home?

Here is a list of the foods that will give you the most bang for your buck. Tasty, nutritious and inexpensive, these foods can be your safety net on those weeks when you check just isn’t stretching as far as you’d like it to!

  • Eggs
  • Rice
  • Dried or canned beans, lentils, chickpeas
  • Pasta
  • Peanut butter
  • Oatmeal
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Potatoes
  • Canned tuna and salmon
  • Fresh Carrots
  • Fresh Onions
  • Bananas
  • Chicken or pork (look for sale prices!)
  • Yogurt
  • Cottage cheese

What often happens when I’m in a spot is that I will find myself with a few random food items but I’ll have no way to tie them together into a meal. When that happens, I’ll do a recipe search on my computer. Seriously, just type in “tuna, rice, tomato” and see what comes up. I guarantee you have more options than you think you do!

Another thing to remember is that, once you get your supply built up, spices and condiments go a long way in jazzing up a couple of simple items. I have a number of recipes on this site that consist of just a few key ingredients paired with spices or condiments! Pork pie filling, Korean beef marinade and General Tso’s chicken are just a few examples.

Go Forth And Conquer

Go Forth And Conquer
Go Forth And Conquer

I hope these tips will help you put your next shopping trip in perspective. Now go forth and get some groceries! And please comment below if you have any tips you’d like to share.

All my best

Cynthia
cynthia@cynthiaeats.com

 

 

Shopping For One Person

Shopping For One Person
Shopping For One Person

Shopping for one person seems like it should be easy. After all, it’s just you, right? You know what foods you like to eat. You know how to make them. You know your schedule for the week so you know how many lunches you’ll be packing, how many nights you’ll be eating at home and whether you’ll be entertaining. Why, then, do you always end up throwing away all that limp produce and a-few-too-many-days-old chicken? And, yup. The bread is stale. Again.

There are a number of factors at play here, but typically the problem starts at the grocery store. Because it seems so easy. You know what you’re out of and you may even have a vague idea of what you’d like to prepare for dinner. So you get to the store and begin to shop but soon enough things go awry.

You see that tomatoes are on sale so you decide to get a few extra. There wasn’t a plan to get bananas but they’re perfectly ripe and certainly look tasty. And what’s that over there on the day-old bakery rack? By the time you get to the checkout, you’ve purchased waaaaayyyyyyyyy more than you had intended. And guess what? Some of that surplus is not going to make it anywhere but the trash can.

Now, don’t beat yourself up too badly because it’s not entirely your fault. Grocery stores are in the business of selling you groceries. They pay people to devise a plan to entice you to buy as much as they can possibly entice you to buy. What you need is a plan of your very own.

Make a Healthy Meal Plan

Make a Healthy Meal Plan
Make a Healthy Meal Plan

The first step in conquering the grocery store is to make a healthy meal plan. It may sound complicated but it’s really not.

Remember how you sort of knew what you wanted to eat the last time you went shopping? Well, write it down. BOOM! Meal plan. At least for one meal, anyway.

And you don’t need to make 21 separate meal plans for the week. What are you having for dinner? You could make double and nuke the leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Or even triple if it’s something you really think you’d eat three times this week. Maybe you could make this Basic Overnight Oats Recipe for a few of your breakfasts. You get the idea.

Keep in mind that whole foods meal plans don’t need to be fancy. You don’t have to buy expensive food, have gourmet cooking skills or large blocks of time. Throw a piece of chicken and a potato in the oven while you microwave a bowl of frozen carrots. There you have it. Whole. Foods. Meal. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Organize a Shopping List

Organize a Shopping List
Organize a Shopping List

Now that you have your meal plan created, it’s time to organize a shopping list. Yes, I do mean organize.

I’m sure you’re already familiar with the setup of your preferred grocery store so make the list in the order that you’ll be walking the store.

For example, list all your fresh produce items together, followed by seafood, meat and dairy. As you get to the “aisle items” part of your list, think about what items might be in the same aisle and list them accordingly. If you have to keep backtracking to get the items you forgot to get while you were there, you might decide it’s just easier to just get a can of spaghetti and a bag of chips for dinner.

Size Matters

If you take the time to read the shelf tags at the store (that list the items’ price per pound, ounce or piece) you know that size matters.

Generally, the larger the package, the lower the unit price. So, you might ask, does ever make sense for a single person to buy food in bulk in order to save money? The answer is a resounding…maybe.

The questions to ask yourself are these: How can this be stored and for how long? Do you have the space to store it? Will you use it all before its “time is up”?

One thing to consider is whether the items can be frozen. Things like meats/poultry and bread products can easily be broken down into serving-sized packages and frozen.

Many meats and poultry can be frozen for up to a year while bread products are best used within 3 months. Fish and Shellfish are trickier as items in the showcase are likely to have been previously frozen so refreezing might compromise the quality. The safer bet, in this case, would be to buy these items in the freezer section of the seafood department.

Many fresh fruits, vegetables and berries can be prepped (seeded/peeled and sliced/chopped) then spread in a single layer and placed in the freezer. When solid, they can be stored in airtight containers in the freezer for 12-18 months. While they will not retain the crisp texture they had when fresh, they will work perfectly well for cooking and pureeing.

This leaves the vast number of shelf-stable and refrigerated items that are available in larger “family size” portions but would not hold up to being frozen. This is where the expiration or sell-by date comes in. Look at the date and ask yourself if you will realistically use it all before then. If the answer is no, it’s better to opt for smaller or single-serve portions. You’re not saving money if you end up throwing the food away.

Frozen Foods Are Your Friend (or Buying Whole Foods Frozen)

Frozen Foods Are Your Friend (or Buying Whole Foods Frozen)
Frozen Foods Are Your Friend (or Buying Whole Foods Frozen)

What’s the first thing you think of when you think of the frozen food aisle? Pizza? Corn dogs? Ice cream?

A large portion of that part of the store is dedicated to processed foods. But if you look a little closer, you’ll find plenty of healthy choices there.

For a single person, buying whole foods frozen might be the answer to your prayers. Think vegetables, fruits, berries and bread. No prep. No waste. No muss. No fuss.

Be aware that there are pitfalls even in the healthy section of the deep freeze (who knew?). Avoid vegetables with added ingredients such as sauces or cheese. And don’t bother with the more expensive “steam in” bags as you probably won’t be cooking an entire 12-16 oz bag to eat in one sitting. Make sure fruits are packaged without added sugar or syrups. When in doubt, read the ingredient label. The only item listed there should match the picture on the front of the container.

On Your Mark…Get Set…Go!!!!!!

On Your Mark...Get Set...Go!!!!!!
On Your Mark…Get Set…Go!!!!!!

It’s time to take a deep breath, get out there and shop. You’ve got this.

Cynthia

Cynthia@cynthiaeats.com

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